INDIANAPOLIS — Robert Mathis is sticking to the plan during his looming four-game suspension.
The Colts linebacker coaches have provided instructions about the drill work he needs to do. The strength coaches have helped devise a weightlifting routine. And coach Chuck Pagano has given Mathis the green light to hire whatever personal trainer he wants.
It's all part of a strategy to ensure the 33-year-old linebacker is ready to go when he returns to action in early October.
"He's going to have a routine. He's going to have a regimen as far as working out, weight room-wise, conditioning-wise," Pagano said Tuesday. "Football, he's got to continue to hone and develop his skill set. Football, he's got to own and continue to develop a skill set."
The Colts started planning for this moment almost as soon as the league announced Mathis had violated the league's performance-enhancing substance policy. Mathis claims he used a fertility drug to help his wife get pregnant and acknowledged he had not checked with the league office to see if it might lead to a positive test.
Mathis was allowed to practice throughout the offseason, at training camp and even after the team returned to its Indianapolis headquarters two weeks ago. He also could play during the preseason, though he hasn't taken a snap in the first three weeks and isn't expected to play Thursday night in Cincinnati, either.
On Saturday, Mathis must be out of the team complex by 4 p.m. The Colts can't have any contact with Mathis again until he's reinstated, presumably in time to practice for the Baltimore game on Oct. 5.
Just how clear is the league's policy restricting contact with coaches and teammates?
"Can't go to the game, can't buy a ticket, can't park cars, can't sell hot dogs, popcorn, nothing," Pagano explained when asked if Mathis could even attend Colts games.
When Pagano was then asked what would happen if he inadvertently bumped into Mathis somewhere such as a grocery store, Pagano deadpanned: "If he's in the deli section, I've got to be in the produce aisle."
To drive home the point, Pagano then pulled out a marker, wrote the number zero on a card and then showed it to reporters to reiterate the point that Colts can't have any contact with Mathis while he's gone.
A year ago, Mathis set a franchise record with a league-high 19 1/2 sacks. The rest of the Colts combined for 22 1/2 sacks.
The timing of the suspension couldn't be worse. The defending AFC South champs open the regular season with a Sunday night trip to Denver, against Peyton Manning and the high-scoring Broncos, then play the up-tempo Eagles in their home opener, a Monday night game in Week 2.
There are promising signs that the Colts can survive without Mathis.
Outside linebacker Erik Walden had one sack Saturday night against New Orleans and second-year linebacker Bjoern Werner, Indy's first-round draft pick in 2013, has become a disruptive force in Mathis' old spot. Two new free agents, defensive lineman Arthur Jones and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, also have given the defense a more aggressive look.
"I'm excited where we're going as a unit, altogether as a whole team. We're just going to keep working hard to achieve our goal," Jones said.
But the biggest challenge might not be what the Colts do without Mathis.
It's making sure their best pass rusher can go full speed when he returns.
"I know Robert, and everybody in this building knows Robert, will stick to that plan and be ready to roll once he gets back," Pagano said. "He's got something to prove, something to give back to those guys."
Notes: Pagano said the Colts may talk about signing free agent offensive lineman Richie Incognito after Saturday's final cutdown. He said the Colts would only make the move if "it makes sense." Incognito could help shore up a young, inexperienced interior line that has thinned by injuries. ... Defensive tackle Montori Hughes returned to practice Tuesday after missing about two weeks following the death of his 3-month-old daughter, Maveah Alice Hughes. ... Pagano wouldn't say who he would hold out of Thursday's game, explaining that it should be obvious.